Monday, April 17, 2006

Insight on RuneQuest - Conflict Webs

A little insight I just had on RuneQuest:

The cults in RQ provide an instant campaign level conflict web. Now, unlike Chris's suggestion on how to create a conflict web to drive play in the linked blog entry, the RQ cult conflict web is something that constantly sits in the background. But by introducing NPCs that follow a cult, the GM is instantly placing that NPC into a conflict web that has a well defined (and interesting for driving play) structure. Of course NPCs can be introduced that don't fit in exactly, but that's just temporarily bending the conflict web, which as long as it isn't bent too far, will still be interesting.

One interesting ingsight here, in Chris's writeup of conflict webs, he doesn't talk about placing PCs into the web, and in fact, it makes sense not to. So what does this mean relative to a PC following one of the cults? Has the PC been placed into the web? No. But there are implicit NPCs (temple authorities, even the actual god) who fill the position in the web. And the players dynamically create new strands that tie their character into the web in play.

And the players dynamically creating strands to tie their character into the web, and in doing so, disturbing the existing strands, is how the conflict web drives play.

One random thought: Is the existence of this campaign level, relatively static, conflict web (that locally and temporarily gets changed in play) something that indicates simulationist play as opposed to narativist play? Certainly it seems that the players discovering, and re-inforcing, and demonstrating, this campaign level conflict web is one way to celebrate the dream.

Looking back on my most successfull RuneQuest campaign, there is no doubt that this conflict web drove play. One of the central PCs was a Lhankor Mhy sage, who was always looking for stuff in tombs. There was almost always a Humakti PC in the group (and I think the other central player played a Humakti for much of the campaign). This of course created lots of tension because the Humakti don't exactly like disturbing graves though they care less about non-Humakti graves. On the other hand, often the tombs were occupied by ghosts or undead, creatures that Humakti consider abominations.

All the significant non-humans in Glorantha are tied into the conflict web, usually through their deity. Trolls aren't exactly buddy buddy with humans, on the other hand, Argan Argar trolls do recognize that trade with humans is valuable. A Zorak Zorani troll can find common cause with a Storm Bull, or anyone else who is willing to dispatch creatures of chaos.



At 3:48 PM, April 17, 2006, Blogger xenopulse said...

Hey Frank,

I think whether or not the conflict web supports sim play depends really on what you do with it and how you approach it. If you put it out there and the players try their best to *get it right*, that is, to play it out according to how they think it's supposed to be, you're in sim territory. If, however, you use the conflict web to touch on player characters' issues, for example loyalty, it goes more toward nar territory. And finally, if you allow the conflict web to become a tool to be manipulated to the players' best advantage, you're heading for the land of gam.

That's my interpretation, at least :)

At 4:52 PM, April 17, 2006, Blogger Bankuei said...

Hi Frank,

The reason I don't write the PCs into the conflict web is that the players make and break alliances and relationships with characters all the time, which would make it too hard to keep track of. Though, if I'm using any kind of flags or such, I build the conflict web with those explicitly in mind.

As far as the sim/nar issue, you'll find that historically in both RQ & HQ play there have been some groups playing Sim, and some groups playing Nar. This is irrelevant to the setting issues. Glorantha's setting is full of conflict, and that's good for nearly any type of game, and it's a matter of how people play and drift that determines what kind of CA you get out of it.

The cults are not static at all. If you read the mythology of them, they're often filled with quite a bit of syncreticism and co-option of other cults or religions. Argrath's story (and his many cults) are the perfect example of constant change.

The fact that there hasn't been a published metaplot (with, the exception of the most recent set of adventure modules), doesn't mean you have a static situation, you just have a situation that hasn't been described yet.

Even the sim folks can use the shifting cultures of Glorantha as much as nar gamers- the CA is determined by how you play it.

At 1:03 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

Hmm, I still wonder if the cult conflict web remains static within the context of the game (sure, it's changed over time in the history - but at least in my play, it's pretty static) that more likely suggests sim play rather than nar play. Of course it could be nar play if there is a smaller scale conflict web which is actually driving play.

I don't have enough experience with nar and sim play yet to really see myself how things work.


At 4:40 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Bankuei said...


I suspect you've had experience with one or both, but just don't have the insight to tell the two apart. Even if all the characters already have "chosen sides" and that never changes throughout the conflict, you can still have narrativism.

For example, in Gladiator, in the first 20 minutes everyone has already drawn a side, but there's still thematic statements being made ("How far will you go to honor a dying man's dream?" "Is power more important than love?")

The question is a matter of play- is it more important to create thematic material in play, or is it more important to be true to realism/the setting/a vision/etc.?

If you're looking to see what kind of CA you have, look at the play, not at the prep.

At 4:54 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

Ok. I'm fairly certain I've done sim. I think I've done nar with my Dogs sessions.

But really, the main point, and sure, it isn't all that stellar, was that Glorantha comes with a nice conflict web, and that when that comes out in play, the result is fun gaming.

Now what I need to do to make my new campaign work really well is to make sure I am more pro-active in bringing out that conflict web.

Also on thinking about campaign settings, in comparison, I think one of my problems with using Tekumel was that it doesn't have such an obvious built in conflict web. So it's got all this encyclopedic detail, but very little of it is useful for driving play.


At 6:32 PM, April 18, 2006, Blogger Bankuei said...

Glorantha has mostly focused on the Heortling/Dara Harrapan conflict, though personally a lot of fun is the internal conflicts of the various cultures.

Probably the two best books I'd pull out is the old Hero Wars Introduction to Glorantha, and the Cults reprint as good sources to go to.

At 9:53 AM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

I've never focused too much on the issues related to the Lunar conquest, but mostly on the conflicts between the cults. Mostly because my general concept of the world is primarily founded on the RQ rule book and Cults of Prax, neither of which give much coverage of the Lunar conquest. Even when I got Borderlands, I never really internalized the fact that this Lunar guy is setting up in Prax, and if so, how he got there (and the implication that Sartar had been conquered).

As a result, I really struggle with how to present Glorantha in this aspect. It also doesn't help that there are no RQ I/II era materials covering conquered Sartar, and I tend to like to start in Sartar (I think both Snake Pipe Hollow and Apple Lane are pre-Lunar conquest, and they're the only RQ I/II era Sartar source material).


At 5:57 PM, April 19, 2006, Blogger Bankuei said...

One of the "features" of Glorantha's setting is that it assumes a fairly educated audience- familar with colonization, cultural assimilation, conquest pretext, etc. and expects you to personally draw in the details about how that all happened.

Some easy possibilities drawn from real world examples:

- Empire supports usurpers within Sartar, cough up pretext for removing the legitimate leadership, and then heavy propaganda over the course of 3-5 generations to fully re-orient the general population as collaborators in expanding the Empire.

- Nobility decides to convert to a new religion to disrupt the traditional clergy who have gained too much power. The Empire happily assists in removing troublemakers, and a new religion is installed. To ease the transition, it has plenty of mixing of the new and old.

- Nobility makes an actual conversion for personal reasons. Usually these types tend to use harsher methods to change the culture, though later rulers tend to scale back and everyone becomes accustomed to the new religion.

- Nobility falls into absolute decadence and corruption, and the Empire sends in "aid", perhaps against bandits, perhaps against monsters or other natural disasters and basically gives a better sales job of taking care of the people than the ruling class does. Find a few disgruntled folks, give them weapons and support, and install them as the new leaders...

In all cases, basically the smart way of colonization involves less and less violent force used to hold the populace and more and more of converting the people to the same way of thinking. After a few generations there is no need to use much military force to hold the colony, they're willingly part of the Empire.

At 11:22 AM, April 21, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

Your points, combined with one of my players mentioning: "Lunar Empire: think Roman Empire. Sartar: think Gaul." gets me thinking of the Asterix comics...

Hmm, how's that as a thought for a source of hero quests...

I think I'll end up playing it by ear a lot.

I've also considered that I should lock all the newer stuff away, and just play with the resources I know and love...

And it's not like I've ever paid all that much attention to Gloranthan canon. When I ran my long running RQ game before, almost all of my module sources were D&D modules... (and in fact, the game started to fall apart when I started using the AH era RQ modules, and collapsed when I re-started the campaign using the Dorastor module).

In a sense, the game was best when it was a thin veneer of D&D like gaming, with an overlay of Cults of Prax, and random tidbits of Gloranthan setting. Which focused play on the cults, and that built in conflict web.



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